After my first year attending college in the heart of a major city, I was starting to feel restless, wanting to experience something drastically different. Living in the northeast has allowed me to travel to many states and experience the excitement that is city life, but after a year of college under my belt, I had a ballooning longing to challenge everything I knew and felt comfortable with. A year in Boston was fulfilling in so many ways – not only was I diving into my new academic environment, but I was taking advantage of the fascinating city around me and immersing myself in a completely new lifestyle. But I found that I was increasingly getting more comfortable in Boston. I knew downtown like the back of my hand, memorized the public transportations routes, and was running out of attractions to see and events to attend. Thus, I started to feel restless.
Contrary to popular belief, I strongly believe feeling restless is healthy and necessary. Feeling a sense of restlessness is my vitamin. It nourishes my soul because it signals to me that I need and want more from my life and seek a challenge. Sometimes my restlessness would lead me to small, doable adventures like taking the commuter rail to a random town on the North Shore or hopping on the Mega Bus to Philadelphia for a weekend. But, I knew the type of restlessness I felt towards the end of my first year in college called for a bigger adventure, challenge, and experience – my restlessness was mountainous.
Packing up your bags, planning an adventure to remedy your restlessness, and feasibly making it work are a lot easier said than done. Money has always been tight in my family and my first year of college was unfortunately primarily financed by student loans. I was, and still am, up to my neck in debt, but I don’t let that halt or hinder me in my constant quest to pursue my ambitions, experience life in a meaningful and unique way, and live a life that prompts people to inquire about what they know. I love storytelling, adventuring, learning, and community engagement and these are motivators in the way I craft my lifestyle and chase my aspiring life trajectory. Which leads me to why I chose Alaska.
As I mentioned, I had just finished my first of college, was already drowning in student loans, babysitting on the side to save up money, and made plans to nanny during the second half of my summer. But the first half was wide open and ready to be filled with an unrepeatable and memorable experience. I knew I wanted to travel alone because from my previous solo traveling experience, I have felt immensely empowered knowing that I am in the front seat of my personal adventure and navigating it completely on my own. Aside from traveling alone, I also knew I was on an extremely tight budget and needed to spend as less money as possible. A year prior to leaving for college I was reading a sustainable living magazine and remembered reading an article on volunteering through a program called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming). The concept of WWOOF is that in return for affordable travel, a local traveling experience, and a free place to stay, you as a WWOOFer volunteer on your host family’s organic farm and assist them with day-to-day upkeep. Up until discovering WWOOF, a lot of the volunteer programs I looked into were extraordinarily expensive and were not feasible on my tight budget and limited means. WWOOF seemed like a perfect fit – volunteering, traveling, and community immersion while also promoting healthy and organic eating habits as well as sustainability and volunteerism.
I decided to look into the program because although I love traveling, I also love having the opportunity to volunteer, contribute to something bigger than myself, learn about national and global communities through meeting new people, and engage in community change and development by experiencing a new lifestyle through a different perspective. After registering as a WWOOFer and calling possible host families, I finally solidified a home-stay in Kenny Lake, Alaska with a young married couple. Although further away, I chose Alaska because it embodied a radically different, adventurous, and uncommon experience – it seemed uncharted in many ways and no one I knew had really been before. And for the people I knew who had been, they took a cruise up there to only see the coast (although it is quite beautiful) and visit the common tourist attractions. I didn’t want my experience to be like that. I didn’t want to take the tourist route because I think there are a lot of moments and experiences that are lost when there’s a tourism barrier between you and the local community. I wanted to live with, volunteer alongside, and be a part of their Alaskan community as much as I could despite not being a resident.
In May of 2011 I left for Alaska and since then, it has been one of the most influential, informative, and challenging experiences of my life. Learning how to grow organic vegetables and herbs alongside my host-family was within itself a significant experience – but knowing that the produce I was harvesting would end up on a local community member’s table was highly rewarding and impactful. I felt like my efforts on the organic farm were making a contribution to someone else’s life, even if just in a simple way of helping to put food on the table. And not just food – but affordable, locally grown, healthy food.
What I love most about WWOOF is how community-based and personal the experience is. Not only are you living with a local family but you are providing a service that will benefit them on a personal level and their community on a local level. Needless to say, my month spent in rural Alaska is one that will have a lasting impact on me for years to come. Which is why, this summer I am embarking on my second WWOOF experience to Utah. Another summer spent getting to know a different part of our country, developing a new outlook on life through personal connections with community members, and promoting environmentally-sound ways of living is exactly the way I want to spend my summer off as a public school teacher.